Was Franklin Edward Kameny crossed by his stars or favored by them? Growing up in Queens during the Great Depression, he knew at the age of six that he wanted to be an astronomer. By the time he was in his early thirties, he had realized his dream: he received a Ph.D. from Harvard, taught at Georgetown, and, in 1957, started working as an astronomer for the Army Map Service. But he lasted there only a few months: the U.S. government found out that he was homosexual, and he lost not only his job but also his security clearance, which almost all astronomy jobs then required. He spent the rest of his working life goading the government to treat homosexual employees fairly. By the time federal policy changed, in 1975, he had become a lion of the gay-civil-rights欧洲杯投注软件 movement, which he seems to have relished, but his chance to study the stars had slipped away.
Kameny was square and unromantic—an unlikely combatant for erotic freedom. “Not gifted with obvious charisma” is the polite formulation of one historian of the gay movement. He had no interest in movies, sports, or popular music. By the time he was fifteen, he had concluded that society was wrong to censure homosexuality, but, apart from a little experimentation in summer camp, he postponed acting on his desires for almost a decade and a half. He obscured his orientation when he enlisted to fight in the Second World War欧洲杯投注软件 and took no advantage of wartime sexual opportunities while serving. Returning home, he enrolled at Harvard, and spent a year of his graduate training at an observatory in Tucson, Arizona, where, on the night of his twenty-ninth birthday, in 1954, he at last made love with a man: he and a young man named Keith drove out into the desert north of the city. There was a full moon, he later recalled, though almanacs show that it was actually waning gibbous.
欧洲杯投注软件The romance didn’t outlast Kameny’s stay in the Southwest, and though he claimed throughout his life that he hoped for a steady boyfriend, Keith seems to have been the closest he came. Despite impressively thorough archival research, Eric Cervini, the author of a brisk, clear-eyed new biography, “” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), is unable to provide Keith’s last name. Kameny, who died in 2011, never disclosed it to interviewers.
After Keith, so many of Kameny’s loves were ephemeral that one suspects he came to prefer it that way. Cervini sets the opening scene of his book in what was known in gay slang as a “tearoom”—a public rest room where men negotiated, transacted, and hid homosexual activity, through a set of conventions that Cervini characterizes as a “silent choreography.” Back when homosexual acts were illegal, tearooms were convenient and discreet—a hookup app avant la lettre—although subject to intervention by the police. “What the covert deviant needs is a sexual machine—collapsible to hip-pocket size, silent in operation,” a sociologist wrote, in the late sixties, to describe the problem that rest-room sex almost solved. Kameny resorted to one in a San Francisco train terminal, in August, 1956, while in town for an astronomy conference. No sooner did he let his genitals be touched, by a six-foot-two blue-eyed man in public relations, however, than both were arrested by police officers spying from behind a ventilation grille. The next morning, Kameny, impatient to return to Washington, D.C., where he was about to start a yearlong teaching assignment at Georgetown, pleaded guilty to lewd conduct and paid a fine of fifty dollars. He expected the charge to be dismissed after six months of good behavior. Instead, it destroyed his career, and gave him his vocation.
欧洲杯投注软件Because the arrest occurred at a time before online mug shots, the blow to Kameny’s career took more than a year to land. He finished up at Georgetown, and, at the Army Map Service, set about improving the precision of missile-guidance maps by comparing the moon’s occultations of stars from different points on Earth. When the Soviets launched Sputnik, in October, 1957, prompting America to jump-start a space program of its own, Kameny thought of volunteering to become an astronaut. Later that month, however, the Map Service’s personnel office wrote to him in Hawaii, where he was measuring occultations, and summoned him back to headquarters. There he faced a pair of government investigators. “Information has come to the attention of the U.S. Civil Service Commission that you are a homosexual,” one of the investigators said. “What comment, if any, do you care to make?”
欧洲杯投注软件Kameny had disclosed his arrest on his job application, but he had listed the charge as disorderly, rather than lewd, conduct. (If he had omitted it altogether, he might never have had any trouble, Douglas M. Charles suggests in his 2015 history, “.”) Not yet a champion of gay rights, Kameny claimed that he had let the other man touch him only out of curiosity, and he dodged the question about his orientation. “As a matter of principle one’s private life is his own,” he said. The Map Service fired him. The official reason was that he had falsified a government form.
Kameny was one of thousands of homosexuals dismissed from federal employment during the Cold War, but Washington had not always been so inhospitable. A park across the street from the White House—in Lafayette Square, where President Donald Trump recently held a photo op, after protesters there were driven out with tear gas—was a gay cruising ground from the late nineteenth century onward. A new government hire of 1933 recalled seeing men with gold-tinted hair dancing cheek to cheek at a party in a former stable behind two town houses on P Street. When government jobs multiplied during the New Deal, gay men flocked to the city, in part because many of them felt more comfortable in workplaces with a substantial number of women, and women, thanks to the impartiality of civil-service exams, had long fared better in the federal workforce than in the private sector. During the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt resisted firing a key foreign-policy strategist at the State Department who had drunkenly propositioned several black train porters.
Roosevelt’s hand was eventually forced, however, by less tolerant politicians and officials, including the head of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover欧洲杯投注软件. As the Cold War took hold, conservatives argued that the government, confronted with the Soviet menace, couldn’t afford any internal weakness; closeted homosexuals were vulnerable to blackmail, and uncloseted ones, if there were any, would bring the government into disrepute. In 1947, Harry S. Truman ordered the vetting of all federal employees and job applicants. The same year, the U.S. Park Police started its so-called Pervert Elimination Campaign, to stamp out cruising areas in Washington, and the State Department, under pressure from the Senate, began quietly forcing homosexuals to resign, on the ground that they were security risks.
欧洲杯投注软件By 1950, the tally of “shady” individuals removed from the State Department, most of them homosexuals, had reached ninety-one, a deputy under-secretary disclosed to Congress that year, in an attempt to counter accusations by Senator Joseph McCarthy that State harbored Communists and homosexuals. The disclosure backfired, however; voters were shocked that there had been so many homosexuals to get rid of in the first place. McCarthy soon dropped the issue—as a middle-aged bachelor, he was wary of being too closely associated with it—but other politicians kept hammering away. “Who could be more dangerous to the United States of America than a pervert?” a Republican senator from Nebraska demanded; he believed that Soviet intelligence agents were likely working their way through a list of homosexuals compiled by Hitler. Truman’s aides warned him that the issue was riling working-class voters, whom the Democrats, then as now, could ill afford to lose. Secretary of State Dean Acheson tried to assure a roomful of newspaper editors that his employees were “clean-living,” pointing out that one had even been the captain of the Princeton football team, but the Senate initiated an investigation anyway—led by a North Carolina Democrat so unfamiliar with the topic of homosexuality that he privately asked one of the lawyers involved, “Can you please tell me, what can two women possibly do?”